As the situation in Western NSW continues to deteriorate, Aboriginal Medical Services in the region say their workers are fatigued.
Since the beginning of the pandemic, two Indigenous people have died from COVID-19 in western New South Wales.
A 50-year-old Aboriginal man from Dubbo became the first Indigenous death from COVID-19 when he succumbed to the virus in Dubbo Base Hospital in late-August.
The second death which was reported on Monday is an Aboriginal woman in her 70s from the remote town of Enngonia, north of Bourke.
She was transferred to Dubbo Base Hospital about a week ago, where she passed overnight.
Nephew Peter Shillingsworth, who also lives in Enngonia, remembered the woman as someone with a “big heart” and a “big family”.
Enngonia had just 148 residents at the last census, almost half of whom were Aboriginal.
It’s an hour away from the nearest hospital at Bourke, and about five hours from Dubbo.
Since August 27, at least 17 COVID-19 cases have been recorded in Enngonia, including Mr Shillingsworth’s teenage son.
The outback towns of Walgett and Brewarrina, which are located only a few hours’ drive from Dubbo, the epicentre of the state’s regional outbreak, and not too far from Enngonia, also have a high Indigenous population.
Acting CEO of Walgett and Brewarrina Aboriginal Medical Services, Katrina Ward, says both communities have managed to avoid the large number of infections seen in places like Dubbo and Wilcannia, but said mob are anxious and frightened.
She told NIRS News, her staff have been working around the clock to protect their communities.
“I have to give credit to both my teams, because they’ve responded really well to the needs of the community, and they’ve worked together, and they put in extra hours when it wasn’t something that they’d normally do, or be used to doing, but it was all about ‘no, we need to do this to protect the community’… they’ve put their own lives to the back for the moment,” Ms Ward said.
Katrina said while she has seen some additional staff come and go, she would like to see more outside staff come for at least three to six months, to help with other health issues that have been neglected due to the immediate threat of COVID in the area… like mental health checks and chronic health issues.
Vaccine hesitancy among First Nations people remains a hot topic issue, and while vaccination rates have risen in the past month due largely to the ongoing crisis in NSW and Pfizer finally reaching more remote communities, Ms Ward says the hesitancy stemmed from the Federal Government’s confusing messaging and lack of communication.
She said the government’s focus seemed to be largely on major centre’s and the miscommunication has heightened anxieties among mob.
Katrina said the western NSW communities were overdue for a big community celebration… all within safe distancing of course.